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Stanford University School of Medicine

“Sometimes aid is transformative:” A look at a simple, affordable clubfoot treatment

In his New York Times column today, writer Nicholas Kristof offers an uplifting story of how a simple, cheap innovation is having global impact for thousands of children born with clubfoot.

As Kristof explains, clubfoot is a common birth defect that results in the internal rotation of one or both feet, affecting about one in 800 children worldwide. With more than one million untreated cases globally, clubfoot is one of the leading causes of disability in the developing world, resulting in physical deformity and social stigma.

Clubfoot is easily treated with a simple nonsurgical treatment involving a bracing compliance, but many children don't wear braces as prescribed and most braces are either high quality and unaffordable, or inexpensive but hard to use.

In 2012, a team of Stanford students taking a Design for Extreme Affordability course teamed up with the nonprofit organization MiracleFeet to design a low-cost foot brace to treat clubfoot. The $20 device consists of shoes and a bar that maintain the feet in the proper position as the child’s feet grow.

With early funding support from the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, graduate students Jeff Yang and Ian Connolly went on to receive several follow-on funding awards; MiracleFeet also received help from a $1 million grant from in 2016.

In his column, Kristof shares stories of how this device has translated to human impact, and how one child, named Miracle, will be the first in three generations to walk and run.

As humanitarian and foreign aid budgets sit on the chopping block, Kristof’s piece is a timely antidote to mounting skepticism about humanitarian aid. On this, he writes:

Look, helping people is complicated. But I’m a strong advocate of more aid because sometimes aid is transformative. When properly done, clubfoot treatment is straightforward, succeeds 95 percent of the time and inexpensively changes a life like that of this 11-month-old girl.

Previously: Two Stanford students' $20 device to treat clubfoot in developing countries
Image from Design for Extreme Affordability

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